A MAIL order giant has imported 300 workers from Eastern Europe to help with the pre-Christmas boom.

Express Gifts defended itself against criticism by claiming it was forced to recruit from nearly 1,000 miles away after only 15 people turned up at a jobs fair in Accrington.

The firm, which is based in Henry Street, Church, and also has a site on the Clayton-le-Moors Business Park, employs hundreds of temporary seasonal workers every year to cope with the extra demand for its catalogue goods.

The 300 foreign workers, mainly from Poland, were recruited through five employment agencies, which helped organise their transport and accommodation throughout East Lancashire.

They have been attracted by the wages which are much higher than in their native lands.

Concerns have been raised about where they will go after their contracts end but as EU citizens they can live and work in any EU country for as long as they like.

Hyndburn's MP Greg Pope said: "It is shocking to discover that these vacancies cannot be filled locally. I am amazed that people in Hyndburn did not want the work or that it wasn't offered to people elsewhere in East Lancashire.

"However, I have no objection to people from countries within the EU working here as long as they working under the same conditions as everyone else."

An Accrington business owner, who asked not to be named, said: "These jobs should really be going to local people.

"I advertised a position recently and I was overwhelmed with applications. I can only presume they are the same people who for years have got a job with Express Gifts in the run-up to Christmas."

An Express Gifts spokesman said the company advertised in the local press and launched a recruitment drive at East Lancashire colleges, culminating in an open day.

The spokesman added: "We employ 900 temporary staff over the Christmas period, 600 of whom are from the Hyndburn area and 300 from other countries within the EU.

"We have made every effort to give these jobs to the people of Hyndburn and they have had every opportunity to apply. But only between 10 and 15 people turned up to the open day."

He added: "Out of the 220 people we employed from EU countries last year, 10 stayed on as permanent staff and the rest went back to Eastern Europe."